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Parikh Gives Spark Clients a Sporting Chance

Nov 14, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Sports are important to Spark Communications director Miraj Parikh, both personally and professionally.
The Chicago-area native is a huge fan of the Cubs and the Bears as well as an avid golfer. He’s also a fan of what sports can do for his clients.
Spark—part of Starcom MediaVest Group and until recently called Starlink—has a preponderance of clients that must reach upscale men. As part of his job, Mr. Parikh heads up the agency’s sports buying efforts.
His position is something of a hybrid: part buyer, part planner. He’s responsible for making media investments for about half the agency’s clients, including E-Trade, Travelers and Suzuki. He also heads a planning team responsible for the Golf Channel, E-Trade and Disaronno Amaretto.
“We have a lot of male and upscale clients, so that kind of naturally gravitates toward sports,” Mr. Parikh said. “We’re also seeing that our general-audience clients are gravitating toward sports, because that’s where there’s some stability. There is increasing erosion in prime time and even in cable.”
He’s bought spots on TV’s biggest platform, the Super Bowl, and gotten clients into newish sports opportunities, such as World Cup soccer when the tournament was held in the U.S.
“It didn’t stand out as the be-all and end-all, but we got Travelers in there, and E-Trade, and the numbers were through the roof and the branding opportunity was great,” Mr. Parikh said. “It was one of the coolest things we got to do.”
Because many of even Spark’s largest clients often are outspent by their competitors, the agency has long been a proponent of extending TV buys by using broadband video.
‘We have a lot of brands that are not necessarily first in their category and so they’re not the top-end spenders. It’s not a nouveau thing for us to say let’s tap this online opportunity, this streaming opportunity, or this video-on-demand or direct TV advance services,” Mr. Parikh said. “It’s an imperative that we have to do in order to compete.”
For his male consumers, online is the new prime time, even when it comes to sports. “That’s where I’m going to reach my men 18 to 49 target or men 25-54. Particularly my financial targets,” he said. “They’re just not watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’”
Mr. Parikh said there’s no shortage of broadband video for clients to sponsor. He does a great deal of business with the broadcast networks, buying broadband as an add-on to regular TV buys. He’s also buying broadband on cable network sites.
Client Suzuki, for example, buys commercials on a number of cable networks. It can be even more targeted online, where it sponsors outdoor programming on the Web sites of National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel.
But sports are more than just a media buy to Mr. Parikh. With Golf Channel and other clients, a round means more than recreation; it means relationship building.
“It’s going to sound kind of old-school, but golf is where a lot of business gets done,” he said.
There aren’t a lot of other chances to spend three or four hours with clients’ senior management. “Business is about relationships. The opportunity to foster a relationship is something I really cherish, and it happens on the golf course.”
Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, Mr. Parikh was inspired to join the advertising business by Darrin Stephens of “Bewitched” and Angela Bower of “Who’s the Boss?” His family, which came to the U.S. from India, wasn’t thrilled.
“If you’re familiar with anyone from the Asian community, trying to explain how advertising relates to being a doctor or an engineer is tough,” said Mr. Parikh, whose younger brother did become an engineer.
Nonetheless, he majored in advertising at the University of Illinois and landed a job with Leo Burnett, despite an embarrassing episode during his interview when his school job counselor gave the recruiter, who was looking for someone in media, both his media and his account management resumes.
The recruiter, Karen Coleman, now Spark’s national broadcast investment director, jokes that she’s still waiting for Mr. Parikh to go into client service.
He said his promotions demonstrate SMV’s commitment to diversity and help him when talking to people from his community about alternative careers.
“There’s something you can break into if you feel you have a different path,” he said.
At home, he and his wife have a 6-month-old daughter, Miranda. Mr. Parikh also spends time going to sporting events, hoping one of the local teams can get over the hump and win a championship. As a Cubs fan, he said that doesn’t include the White Sox, who won the World Series in 2005.
“I really don’t acknowledge that,” he said.
Who knew?: Mr. Parikh said he got his five seconds of fame when his wife, Dawn, was on “Wheel of Fortune” in 2002. When she got the bonus-round answer right, he ran on stage and got to say hello to Pat Sajak and Vanna White. “It also led me to believe that the camera does put 15 or 30 or 50 pounds on,” he said. The winning phrase: golf bag. “My passion for golf did pay off,” he said.

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